in adults with an autism
we tell you about anxiety in adults with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
how anxiety affects someone psychologically and physically. We also
tell you about the different ways to help manage anxiety, from keeping
a diary to learning relaxation techniques and getting support from
others in a similar situation.
in someone with an ASD
is common in people with an ASD. It can happen for a range of reasons
and people can vary in their ability to cope with it. Anxiety can
affect both the mind and the body, and produce a range of symptoms.
The psychological and physical symptoms of anxiety are closely linked
and so can lead to a vicious cycle that can be difficult to
psychological symptoms of anxiety are:
easily losing patience
thinking constantly about the worst outcome
becoming preoccupied with or obsessive about one subject.
physical symptoms include:
loose bowel movements
frequent urinating (going to the loo)
periods of intensely pounding heart
periods of having gas-
pins and needles
you do experience any of these symptoms, it is important to also get
medical advice to
out other medical conditions.
are abstract. To understand emotion you need an imagination. One of
the areas of difficulty for people with an ASD is not being to imagine
things so understanding emotions can be difficult for them. People
with high-functioning autism may understand some emotions and
recognise the feelings that are associated with them. By helping
someone to understand anxiety, you can help them to manage it better.
such as those sold by Incentive Plus (see Further information and
contact details) as well as the Autism Research Centres CD ROM, Mind
reading (available from NAS publications; contact details below), can
help teach someone with an ASD about emotions.
for managing anxiety
someone understands anxiety and has identified the things and
situations that make
anxious, they can then take steps to cope with the anxiety. If you are
with an ASD, try and be aware of what makes them anxious and how best
to help them manage certain behaviours.
help someone with an ASD understand anxiety, get them to understand
display when they are anxious and to look at the causes of their
anxiety. Keeping a
in which they write about certain situations and how these make them
feel may help
to understand their anxiety and manage it better. Use the diary also
to think about the physical changes linked to anxiety. Someone with an
ASD often retreats into their particular interest if they are anxious
about something use the
to monitor this as well:
and date Situation How I felt at the time
a scale of 1 to 10, how anxious did I feel?
an anxiety plan when someone with an ASD is feeling positive about
plan is a list of things and situations that cause anxiety as well as
they can use to help them manage their anxiety levels. The plan can be
adapted, depending upon how well someone understands anxiety:
Symptoms of anxiety Solution
on the bus. Hearts beats fast; sweat and feel sick.
stress ball in pocket. Squeeze the ball and take deep breaths. Listen
with an ASD can find it very difficult to relax. Some people with an
ASD have a
interest or activity they like to do because it helps them relax. If
they use these to relax, it may help to build them into their daily
routine. However, this interest or activity can itself be the source
of behavioural difficulties at times, especially if they're unable to
follow their interest or do the activity at a particular moment.
people may need to be left alone for short periods of the day to help
activity can also often help to manage anxiety and release tension.
exercises to relax can be helpful as can activities such as yoga and
Pilates, which both focus on breathing to relax. Use a visual
timetable or write a list to help remind the person when they need to
other activities that are pleasant and calming such as taking a bath,
listening to relaxing music, aromatherapy, playing on a computer may
also help reduce anxiety. Some people may find lights particularly
soothing, especially those of a repetitive nature, such as spinning
lights or bubble tubes.
may need to encourage adults who are less able to take part in these
activities so that they can enjoy their benefits. You can do this by
explaining when and where they will do the activity and what it will
involve. You may have to go along with the person at first and do
short periods of activity to begin with.
people with an ASD find direct confrontation difficult. They may
therefore be unable to say they dont like certain things or
situations, which will raise their anxiety levels. If they identify
they are anxious, they could use a card system to let family or
friends around them know how they are feeling. At first, you may need
to tell them when to use the card and prompt them to use it when they
do become anxious.
could also carry a card around with them to remind themselves of what
they need to
if they start getting anxious. You could also give them a stress scale
that they can use
they find something particularly stressful. It may help them to buy
our Autism Alert card (www.autism.org.uk/card),
which is the size of a credit card. They can use the card to let
members of the public know they have an ASD. The Autism Alert card is
available from NAS publications (see contact details below).
support from other people with an ASD
may help someone with an ASD to read the personal accounts of other
people who also
an ASD, and to see how they dealt with certain situations and managed
experienced. A number of people with an ASD have written personal
accounts of their experiences:
half empty, glass half full: how Asperger's syndrome has changed my
life by Chris
sense of the unfeasible: my life journey with Asperger syndrome by
in pictures by
also produce a quarterly newsletter called Asperger
United. It is
written by people with
ASD and includes personal accounts of having an ASD. Find out more at
following online resources may be helpful to someone with an ASD as
they are all aimed specifically at people with ASDs.
site has a range of forums and a chat room, articles and lots of
information and aims to help build the autism culture.
website is run by Emma Thomson, who has an ASD. It has lots of
information, including a blog.
is on the NAS website and includes personal stories, thoughts,
reflections, short films,
and lecture transcripts about life on the spectrum from people with
website is for people with ASDs and its priority is to provide
website includes chapters from a book by Marc Segar, who had an ASD.
Guide for People with Asperger Syndrome has tips and advice on how to
cope witha range of feelings, written from the perspective of someone
with an ASD. For example, Marc not only talks about the unwritten
rules about behaviour, but offers lots of tips and advice.
website is designed for individuals and parents of people with ASDs.
It has a discussion forum, a section for articles, how-to guides and a
chatroom for real-time communication.
to a support group for people with ASDs means meeting other people
can be helpful in some cases. Different support groups will offer
going on outings to discussion groups about particular topics. Go to
for information about support groups in the UK. You can also
our Autism Helpline to help find various services.
people with an ASD are not able to identify their anxiety or to put in
place strategies to manage it on their own. A specialist or a
counsellor with experience of ASDs may be able to help them. Our
Autism Helpline has details of counsellors and specialists in
different areas. The following information sheets may also help and
are available from our Autism Helpline:
and psychotherapists: a guide
repetitive behaviours and routines
sequencing and prioritising
preparing a person with autism spectrum disorder for change
skills: an introduction
information and contact details
Keynes MK17 ORP
0845 180 0140
Plus sells a range of resources to promote social and emotional
Attwood, T. (1993). Why
does Chris do that? Some suggestions regarding the cause and
of the unusual behaviour of children and adults with autism and
London: The National Autistic Society
Attwood, T. (2006). The
complete guide to Asperger's syndrome.
London: The National
E. J. (2005). The
anxiety and phobia workbook.
USA: New Harbinger Publications
N. (2007). Integrated
yoga - yoga with a sensory integrative approach.
Ghaziuddin, M. (2005). Mental
health aspects of autism and Asperger syndrome.
D. and Padesky, C. A. (1995). Mind
over Mood: Change how you feel by
the way you think. London:
The Guildford Press
May, F. (2005). Understanding
London: The National Autistic Society
Mind guide to relaxation.
S. (1997). Coping
with anxiety and depression.
London: Sheldon Press
D. (2003). Exposure
anxiety - the invisible cage. An exploration of self-protection
responses in the autism spectrum and beyond.
London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers
Wing, L. (2006). What's
so special about autism? London:
The National Autistic Society
an item is marked as available from NAS publications, please contact:
+44 (0)845 458 9911
+44 (0)845 458 9912
you require further information please contact the NAS Autism Helpline
0845 070 4004